Dr. Nancy E. Davidson, longtime BCRF grantee and member of the Scientific Advisory Board, was inducted as President-elect of the American Association for Cancer Research for 2015-2016 at the AACR Annual Meeting which took place April 18-22. She will assume her presidency in April 2016. Dr. Davidson is world-renowned for her work in clinical and translational breast cancer research, cancer biology and treatment. Other BCRF grantees who have served as AACR president include Carlos Arteaga (immediate past president), Judy Garber, Geoffrey Wahl and Susan Horwitz.
Ahead of her induction Dr. Davidson spoke with us on her new role, the challenges that lie ahead and reflected on the advances she has witnessed throughout her career in breast cancer research.
What do you hope to achieve during your tenure as AACR president-elect?
AACR is the oldest and largest scientific organization directed towards cancer research in the world and has been steadfast in its mission to advancing cancer research. I am excited to become part of AACR’s leadership team, to have the opportunity to support that mission and join the long list of BCRF grantees and breast cancer specialists who have served in this role.
The priorities facing AACR and the cancer research community continue to be focused on how to advance cancer research to have the greatest impact on patient care. A major challenge towards this goal is making sure the resources are available, especially legislative and public support of federal funding for cancer research. One way AACR has addressed the funding issues is through novel partnerships such as Stand Up To Cancer.
AACR is a member-driven organization and I am really passionate about ensuring support of the member base by providing opportunities for continuing education, meeting participation, and publication in AACR’s journal portfolio – all the things that are necessary to advance a science career. We especially need to make sure that we’re promoting our youngest scientists, so that people coming into the field can look forward to a career in research and those in the field can train the next generation.
What challenges do younger scientists face?
It’s not uncommon for young scientists to be discouraged about the future of their careers in the face of a persistent funding crisis. We need to do everything we can to make sure when people come into the field that they see the amazing momentum and feel the passion. We have to be able to support them through this early phase of their career until they can become more established investigators. That means giving them the skills they need to be successful and also trying to make sure we are supporting the funding climate as best as we possibly can. I think a lot of young people are worried and we need to allay these fears whenever we can.
BCRF is helping with that because it supports young investigator awards through its partnerships with AACR and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
Can you highlight other specific challenges you believe you will be facing when you assume your position and how you hope to meet those challenges?
While AACR continues to advocate for the importance of basic/ translational and clinical science in advancing cancer research, it needs to continue to advocate for resource investment both in the U.S. and, where possible, across the globe. It also really needs to advocate on behalf of its members. I think those are unrelenting challenges for AACR.
I hope to continue in the ongoing efforts to address these issues. I don’t think these are things we solve and say, “We’re done with that now. Check, finished.” To me those are the biggest challenges and what I most hope to contribute is to continue the work of my predecessors and ensure that AACR is ready for the needs of the future.
How has your work with BCRF influenced what you have been doing and what you will be doing with AACR?
My work with BCRF is integral to everything I do. I’ve been involved with BCRF since 1998. It has not only helped me as an individual researcher, but has also helped me to be part of breast cancer teams and to support organizations I’m passionate about like AACR.
BCRF is a staunch supporter of the spectrum of breast cancer research. While it initially funded largely translational and clinical science, it has branched out and is now funding more basic research studies with the goal of moving discoveries from the lab into translational studies and ultimately clinical trials to benefit patients.
How have you seen the world of cancer research grow throughout your career and where do you see it heading?
The field of cancer research has grown considerably over the several decades of my career, and of course that represents only a short time in the history of cancer research. In my personal experience as a breast cancer specialist, I think we’ve seen dramatic changes in how we approach surgery and radiotherapy. We’ve seen the advent of precision or personalized breast cancer medicine in an ever more-targeted way. We’ve seen the ability to use precision medicine for risk assessment; we have seen the ability to increase our screening capabilities and we have seen this amazing increase in advocacy and recognition of a disease like breast cancer. These are all enormous areas of progress and we can see how mortality from breast cancer is changing because of that.
I’ve mentioned the advances in breast cancer but you can have the same discussion about lung cancer, you can talk about the changes in colon cancer, you can think of some types of leukemia that were pretty uniformly fatal and which are now quite controllable. I think a lot has changed over the last 50 years and I think the trajectory of change is only going to get steeper. I think the progress over the next couple of decades will be far more and in ways we can hardly even imagine.
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